Washington, DC – The United States along with the European Union and France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, and the United Kingdom reacted to the constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka as its president ousted the prime minister and brought in a controversial political figure.
Earlier on the last day of the parliament session, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and controversial Sri Lankan strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as the new prime minister.
The surprise move followed growing tensions between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe on several economic reforms and policy matters including leasing of a port to neighboring India.
The crisis was precipitated as Premier Wickramasinghe was sacked after the president’s United People’s Freedom Alliance party (UPFA) quit the government. Reacting sharply to his sacking, Wickremesinghe asserted that the swearing-in of Rajapaksa is “illegal and unconstitutional.” But to counter these allegations of constitutional wrong-doing from the fired Premier Wickramasinghe, President Sirisena suspended the country’s parliament until November 16.
Urging Colombo to abide by the Constitution and refrain from violence, the US State Department tweeted a statement: “The US is following events in Sri Lanka. We call on all parties to act in accordance with Sri Lanka’s constitution, refrain from violence, and follow due process. We expect government of Sri Lanka to uphold its Geneva commitments to human rights, reform, accountability, justice, and reconciliation.”
The Delegation of the EU, in agreement with the EU Heads of Mission resident in Colombo, said in a statement, “The Ambassador of the European Union as well as the Ambassadors of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and the UK High Commissioner are closely following the events as they are unfolding in Sri Lanka. We urge all parties to fully act in accordance with Sri Lanka’s constitution, to refrain from violence, to follow due institutional process, to respect the independence of institutions, and freedom of media.”
The dramatic return of Rajapaksa as the new prime minister after Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe came as a surprise both on domestic and international fronts as the prime minister and his United National Party (UNP) came to power promising accountability for alleged atrocities committed in Sri Lanka’s civil war and during Rajapaksa’s administration.
Rajapaksa ended the civil war in 2009, but faced criticism for the means by which he achieved victory – many thousands of Tamil civilians are thought to have been killed by government forces in the final months of the fighting. Over the 26-year conflict, between 80,000 and 100,000 people are estimated to have died, with both sides alleged to have perpetrated war crimes.
The former president Rajapaksa , is also accused of corruption on an epic scale, along with his inner circle and that is cited as the reason for his lost bid for re-election in 2015. Freedom of expression and media was severely curtailed under his regime, with allegations of dozens of journalists killed, abducted and tortured, while some fled the country fearing for their lives.
Meanwhile, neighboring India has adopted a cautious approach so far and has not issued any official comment on the dramatic developments in Sri Lanka. Indian foreign office sources say they are keeping a close watch on developments. Significantly, India’s deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, Silpak Ambule attended a briefing by Wickremesinghe on Saturday. The Chinese ambassador, however was one of the first diplomats to greet Rajapakse after he took charge.